Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Many Rooms: Stylin' at the Antique Stores

During our lives, we visit certain rooms and places only once, or for a short time, and we don’t return except in memory....

I love to read about the history of roads, especially the evolution of automobile highways in the twentieth century. The latest issue of Illinois Heritage contains an article about an early Illinois road, the Egyptian Trail.(1) “Egypt” of course is a long-time nickname for the state’s southern counties. The trail followed the current highways U.S. 45 from Chicago to Effingham, IL 37 from Effingham to Salem, U.S. 50 from Salem to Sandoval, and U.S. 51 from Sandoval to Cairo. A later Egyptian Highway simplified the route, following today's U.S. 45 from Chicago to Effingham and then the current IL 37 from Effingham to Cairo.

These are among my favorite highways. They evoke a lovely nostalgia: two-lane sights and businesses within easy driving distance of home. When I was a younger teenager, my parents like to visit antique stores on weekends and some excellent stores operated on that stretch of US 50 between Sandoval and Salem. Sandoval itself is a small town where we liked to shop for burgers on the way back from shopping trips in nearby Centralia. Over ten years later, I lived in southeastern Illinois, but my fiancee (now wife) Beth lived in south-central Illinois. We did a lot of driving to see each other. Often, I skipped the interstates and took the two-lane highways like 51 and 37.

One antique store on U.S. 50, just east of Sandoval, was open “by chance or appointment,” and in hindsight we should have made an appointment because it was never, ever open whenever we drove back. But one time: jackpot! Beth and I found the place open. Later, we laughed that another customer goodnaturedly scolded the store owner for never being available. It was a nice little store. I purchased a French antique, a net to strap around one's face to help one's long mustache curl properly.(2)

That was the only time we visited that store. Every other time I drove by, it was closed, and it's long since closed for good. On another occasion, when Beth and I were driving around the countryside, we decided to another, smaller shop. It was along IL 37 north of Mt. Vernon, IL, in a small house. The woman had an array of antiques: not extensive, but worth browsing. I liked a top hat, still in its stiff traveling box. Beth decided to get it for me as a present, and I’ve worn it on occasion when I’m trying to “channel” Abe Lincoln for school presentations and so on.

Lincoln didn't have a mustache, but if I grew my mustache long, I suppose I could use the French face
net, curl my facial hair, put on the top hat, lose the blue glasses, and I'd look really sharp in a nineteenth century way…

That little antique shop wasn’t open for long after that. Whoever owned the place gave us a nice set of memories. I lost track of which house it was; there are several small houses of the same vintage along that stretch of 37.

The moral, I suppose, is seize the day: if you have a notion to do something, don’t assume you’ll have another chance! I’m glad I have these two, small memories of pleasant antique stores visited only once.


1. Jim Wright, "2015 Marks the Centennial of the Dixie Highway and the Egyptian Trail in Illinois," Illnois Heritage (May-June 2015), 50-54.

2. The instructions read: "FIXE MOUSTACHES. Mode d'Emploi. 1 Hummecter les moustaches d'un peu d'eau de Cologne ou autre alcool; 2. Les peigner un peu dans le pli qu'on vent leur donner; 3. Et, tout en les maintenant de son mieux avec les doigts, appliquer par dessus le Fixe-Moustaches qu'on accrochera soit derrière chaque oreille ou derrière in tête."

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